McGimpesy’s progress part 2″

Amidst all the fun of laying into Catriona Ruane, one of our other ministerial incompetents seems to have got off very lightly of late. I am of course referring to our dear Health Minister Michael McGimpsey. He has recently been up to a point celebrated by both the BBC and the Belfast Telegraph.Unfortunately as I have previously pointed out the facts are somewhat at variance with this picture. McGimpsey first downgraded the targets to essentially non binding aspirations and then welcomed not actually meeting them as a great success. Also of course the vast majority of the improvements had been made under Direct Rule (not that Mr. McGimpsey wants to tell us that).

Of course there has been significant progress. However, our targets are much less rigorous that the rest of the UK’s targets. Hence, not quite achieving the least ambitious NHS targets seems less worthy of public rejoicing.

There are of course also other serious issues facing the Department. Just this week we have been told of the excessive age of a number of ambulances.

Also whilst McGimpsey offers to throw money at a new cancer centre in the North West (not in any way a bad thing of itself) it is unclear whether or not all the expensive cancer drugs available in England are also available in Northern Ireland. As an example of the problems: the new expensive arthritis drugs have required a two year wait in NI which was absent in GB, although that situation seems set to change here (not before time).

Again we see that McGimpsey is very keen on grand gestures. What he is failing to address is one of the major reasons for our problems in Northern Ireland. It is that we have far too many, too small hospitals. McGimpsey (and in fairness Direct Rule ministers before him) have been completely unwilling to address this problem. This produces massive diseconomies of scale which dwarf the savings made by reducing the number of managers in the heath service (not that that is wrong in itself). In addition this refusal to make decisions about hospital numbers means that the Trusts are forced to do so themselves and there is no strategic planning for these inevitable and necessary changes which may well cause severe problems such as the closure of Lagan Valley maternity services. There are also other problems looming to do with reduction in junior doctors hours of work.

Mr. McGimpsey needs to learn that being a good health minister is not merely about announcing nice things and promising money to sort out short term problems but also about making difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions to improve the long term state of our health service and bring it up to somewhere near the standard it should and could be.

  • Briso

    Turgon, calling someone incompetent doesn’t make it so. I’ve read the BBC report and it sounds like McG is doing remarkably well in a short space of time.

    “The improvement in A&E;performance is perhaps the most remarkable – without any major new money, we have all but eliminated long trolley waits.”

    He said across Northern Ireland 92% of patients were waiting less than four hours in A&E;units, according to figures at the end of March.

    “This is a significant achievement which shows the real benefits of teams in trusts working with focus, sharing improved practice and cooperative working across the health and social care service,” he said.

    The minister said that two years ago, there were 110,000 people waiting more than 13 weeks for a first outpatient appointment, but this had been reduced to 55 at the end of last month.


    In the same period, the number of patients waiting more than 21 weeks for surgery fell from 10,000 to just 56 people.

    Ambulance response times have improved also in the past year – the number of emergency calls responded to within eight minutes rose from 55% in April 2007 to 68% in March 2008.

    Mr McGimpsey also said that 74% of fractures were treated within 48 hours, compared to 51% in August last year.

    “This is a remarkable achievement,” he said.

    Credit where credit’s due?

  • Turgon


    Credit where it is due indeed. The vast majority of the gain was under Direct Rule not under his watch. He reduced the targets as I have noted on a number of previous occasions. He is now announcing the near missing of his reduced targets as a great success.

    Indeed credit where it is due: Not with McGimpsey.

  • lámh dearg

    Too early to call

    There have been huge improvements in hospital performance due to

    a. Shaun Woodward (MP and last direct rule Minister for Health),

    b. Henrietta Campbell, recently retired Chief Medical Officer who brought

    c. Martin Connor from England to lead the Service Delivery Unit which in effect became the working version of the Department of Health (which frankly couldn’t organize a piss-up in a brewery) and was also lead by

    d. David Sissling, another English import who worked alongside Martin Connor to actually bring about change, Unfortunately Mr Sissling was then shabbily treated by the new Minister (MMcG)and the rearguard in his Department as part of his cowardice in implementing the RPA fully in the Health field resulting in Mr Sissling returning to England where he now is involved in the Darzi Health Review of London Healthcare.

    And there we are, the Minister continues to enjoy the fruits of his predecessors’ efforts despite undermining the staff who delivered the benefits. The Department of Health tries to drag us back to the stagnant, centralist nihilism of the past, the RPA is shelved, the Supertrusts get more and more powerful with less and less accountability, the Boards continue to implode despite the uncertainty about what will replace them and the Minister follows in the less than illustrious footsteps of the late, unlamented “my only decision is that I will not make any decisions” Bairbre de Brún.

    But, actually if he gathers his courage and takes a few key decisions which have already been worked up it is not too late for him to succeed

  • An Lochlannach

    It’s only a few weeks since Fintan O’Toole was praising McGimpsey in the Irish Times – comparing him with Mary Harney and asking if there’s any chance of a swap. It’s far from a concensus that he’s imcompetent.

  • Rory

    Oh do please, let us be fair. It can hardly have escaped the notice of any reasonably intelligent being the direction in which the NHS is being taken. The potential for profitability in the care sector now vastly outweighs any concern for the need for care itself.

    So it is that any minister taking on this brief within any jurisdiction in Europe finds himself merely the wine waiter replenishing a poisoned chalice. He must attempt to enchant his customers with the sweetness and goodness of all that he pours.

    After, of course, he gets himself a directorship in a “health-care” company.

  • aquifer

    ‘excessive age of a number of ambulances’

    So maybe we paid for good ambulances that don’t need tossed every three years. If the ambulance is well maintained it may well be suitable for continued duty. Ambulance bodies can last much longer than the vehicle that carries them, so can be recycled.

  • Rory

    Great idea, Aquifer. Unfortunately it also smells of being sensible and if implemented might deprive a shareholder of their share of profit from replacement or maintenance contracts. A healthy health service must first ensure healthy profits for those who are happy to profit from human misery. It is called “Your Government in Action”.

    Dontcha just love it?

  • Gregory

    “Ambulance bodies can last much longer than the vehicle that carries them, so can be recycled.”

    Into what, black taxis?

    Utility design, I figure the black taxi can trace its parentage to a bath tub car from the 1920s.

    Our ambulances broke with their parentage in the 1970s, didn’t we buy some American ambulances that didn’t fit our roads?

    I can’t find it on the web, But I claim, we bought yank hospital-wagons and they didn’t fit and were not used.